Chapter X: Soul Scrolls is the 10th chapter of The Handmaid's Tale (Novel). It contains section 25-29.
Section 25 Edit
In the morning, Cora finds Offred sleeping on the floor, and she screams and drops the breakfast tray, shattering the dishes. Offred tells Cora she fainted. Cora covers for her and tells Rita that she dropped the tray by accident.
Spring gives way to summer, and Offred continues to meet the Commander in his office at night. They develop a system of signals so that Serena will not realize what is going on. If Nick is polishing the car hatless, or hat askew, the Commander wants Offred to come see him. Sometimes she cannot go because Serena is knitting in the sitting room. Other times, Serena goes out to visit other Wives when they are sick, or feigning illness. The Wives take turns being sick; Offred thinks it adds interest to their lives. Other women, the Marthas and the Handmaids, cannot afford to be sick, because the sick and old might be sent away to the Colonies. Offred says that she sees no old women, although no one really knows where they go.
The Commander does not make any further physical advances toward Offred. They play Scrabble, and he allows her to look at an old copy of Vogue. The women in the magazine remind her of princes or pirates. On the third night she asks the Commander for some hand lotion. He laughs when Offred tells him the Handmaids use butter to keep their skin moist, which infuriates her. She leaves the lotion in his office so that it will not be found in her room.
Section 26 Edit
Now that Offred has a friendship with the Commander, she feels embarrassed about having sex with him during the Ceremony. Offred still hates Serena, but she also feels jealous of her, and guilty, since she realizes that she is now the Commander’s mistress despite the absence of any covert sexual activity between them. If Serena were to find out what was going on, she could expel Offred. Once, the Commander almost touches Offred’s face during the Ceremony, and she later tells him never to touch her because Serena could transfer her to the Colonies. He says he finds sex impersonal, and she asks him how long it took him to figure that out. She is becoming more comfortable with him. Offred remembers Aunt Lydia telling the Handmaids that the population would eventually reach an acceptable level, at which point the Handmaids would live in only one household, instead of getting transferred, and Handmaids would become like daughters to the Wives.
Section 27 Edit
Ofglen and Offred, now more comfortable with one another, continue to make their shopping trips. The fish store, Loaves and Fishes, rarely opens now, because the seas have become so polluted that few fish still live in them. They continue to visit the Wall, and Offred wonders if Luke is imprisoned behind the Wall in the place that used to be a university and now serves as a detention center. On one of their return trips, Ofglen and Offred stop at a store called Soul Scrolls. Inside, humming machines print prayers. Many of the Wives phone in orders for prayers in order to signal their piety. After the prayers are printed, the paper is recycled and used again.
Suddenly, Ofglen whispers to Offred, asking her whether she believes God actually listens to the machines. Ofglen’s question is treasonous, but Offred decides to trust Ofglen and answers, “No.” The two women realize they can trust one another. Offred is tremendously excited. She learns that Ofglen is part of a group of subversives. As they walk home, a dark black van painted with a white-winged eye, the symbol of the Eyes, stops abruptly. Offred thinks perhaps her conversation with Ofglen was recorded, but the two Eyes who jump out grab a man carrying a briefcase. They drag him into the vehicle and drive away, and Offred feels tremendous relief.
Section 28 Edit
Offred recalls how Moira disapproved of her affair with Luke, saying that Offred was poaching on another woman’s property. We learn that Moira was a lesbian. Offred accused Moira of poaching women, and Moira says it is different with women. It is hot in Offred’s room, and she has been given a fan. She muses that if she were Moira, she would know how to take the fan apart and use the blades as a weapon. She thinks of how strange it now seems to her that women used to have jobs.
Offred remembers the fall of the United States and the creation of Gilead. First, the president was shot and Congress was machine-gunned; then the army declared a state of emergency, telling everyone to remain calm. Islamic fanatics were falsely blamed for the -execution of the entire government. The Constitution was suspended. In shock, people stayed at home and watched their televisions. At this point, Moira warned Offred that something terrible was going to happen. Slowly, the newspapers were censored and roadblocks appeared, and soon everyone had to carry an Identipass. There was a crackdown on smut of all kinds: the “Pornomarts” shut down, and the “Feels-on-Wheels vans” and “Bundle Buggies” disappeared.
In Offred’s pre-Gilead days, paper money had been replaced by Compucards that accessed bank accounts directly. One day after the fall of the government, Offred tried to use her Compucard in the local store, and her number was declared invalid. She went to her job at the library, phoned her bank, and got a recording stating that the lines were overloaded. Later that afternoon, her boss appeared looking disheveled and distraught. He told Offred and her female coworkers that he had to fire them, because it was the law. The women had to leave within ten minutes. Two men wearing army uniforms and carrying machine guns watched over the procedure.
When she reached her home, Offred called Moira and learned that women could no longer legally work or hold property. Their bank accounts were transferred to their husbands or the nearest male family member. Luke tried to console her, but Offred wondered if he was already patronizing her. She realizes that the army men she saw were not members of the United States army. They were wearing different uniforms. In the weeks and months that followed, there were protests and marches, but the army cracked down hard on dissent and the protesting stopped. Offred and Luke never joined any of the protests, because they were afraid for their lives and for the life of their daughter. Remembering the marches makes Offred remember earlier protests in which her mother was involved. She remembers being an adolescent and being ashamed of her mother’s activism.
Looking out her window, Offred sees Nick come into the yard and notices that his hat is askew. She wonders, idly, what he gets out of facilitating her forbidden liaisons with the Commander, and she remembers their fleeting kiss in the darkened living room. Then she remembers how the night after she lost her job, Luke wanted to make love, but Offred felt uncomfortable, because the balance of power had shifted subtly. They no longer belonged to each other; instead, she belonged to him. She thought perhaps he liked the fact that she belonged to him. Now she wants to know whether she was right.
Section 29 Edit
The Commander and Offred have become more informal with one another. After a game of Scrabble, he offers her a magazine as usual, but she wants to talk instead. She tries to get information about him, but he gives her vague answers. Then she asks him what the Latin phrase in her room means. The Commander translates it as “don’t let the bastards grind you down,” and explains that the phrase is a schoolboy joke. Offred guesses that the former Handmaid must have learned the phrase from him and scratched it into the floor. She asks what happened to that Handmaid. The Commander replies that Serena discovered their nighttime liaisons, and the Handmaid hanged herself. Suddenly, Offred realizes that the Commander summons her to his office because he wants her life to be bearable: he feels guilty. She knows that his guilt is a weapon she can use. The Commander asks her what would make her life better. Offred asks for knowledge about “what’s going on.”
- "SparkNote on The Handmaid’s Tale." http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/handmaid/.
- Chapter transcript: